Recently, the members of the Lexington Professional Firefighters IAFF Local 526 ratified a labor agreement with the city of Lexington.
We sat down at the table and bargained a deal that was good for all parties, especially the citizens of Lexington. We hope that this helps the city, which faces some economic challenges.
We agreed to this deal knowing that times are tough and that everyone is being asked to sacrifice. This agreement showed that collective bargaining works and that labor and management can come together and do what is best just like what has occurred over the past six years.
This new agreement is a 3-year deal which freezes wages for two years, increases contributions for health insurance, reduces uniform allowances and reduces vacation and holiday time off. Our members sacrificed pay and benefits and our more senior firefighters are possibly looking at less money on their retirements because we firefighters are always there to help.
We are a very close family and we agreed to this deal because of the real possibility of layoffs of our members. The bottom line is that those layoffs and other cuts would compromise the safety of our firefighters and the citizens of Lexington.
We, of course, are facing other issues like our staffing on trucks, which is currently below the national recommended standards according to the National Fire Protection Association. Our overall department staffing is falling behind due to retirements.
In the next few months, the city will be faced with three choices: to not hire, to pay overtime or to close permanently or temporarily trucks or stations.
Overtime has a monetary cost and there is a savings in closing a station or "browning out" a truck, but the savings compromise the safety of firefighters and, more importantly, the citizens of Lexington.
Response times will be increased and fire attacks and advanced medical care will be delayed. The Insurance Services Office, which bases home and business insurance rates on fire protection, will most certainly look unfavorably at cuts in services and increase insurance rates to the citizens of Lexington.
A simple answer on which everyone can agree is to hire a class. However, it takes about 11 months to go through the hiring process and the training academy.
The lack of hiring for the department comes at a time when the Lexington Fire Department is busier than ever. In 2010, the department responded to 39,916 incidents, which averages out to over 109 incidents per day.
This is up more than 8,700 incidents from 2000 when there were 31,182 incidents at an average of 85 incidents per day.
This shows the city has grown and the need for what we do has expanded, as well. The department responds to more than just fires; we respond to vehicle accidents, alarm activations, hazardous materials incidents and technical rescues.
On the EMS side we respond to everything from heart attacks and strokes to shootings, stabbings, assaults and other violent crimes.
We understand the financial situation facing the city and that is why we agreed to the concessions we did. We also feel very strongly that we must inform the citizens we serve that if a class is not hired immediately to replace those retiring, then closing a company that is already understaffed can make the difference between a successful outcome and a tragic ending.
When seconds matter, some politicians gamble with the citizens' lives they are suppose to represent. Even though this job is blue collar, it requires a level of expertise, training and professionalism that does not come easily and you cannot just hire anyone to do it.
Please understand that Lexington firefighters will continue to do the best with whatever resources we are allowed. At the same time, the cost of public safety must not continue to be treated like just another item in the city's budget and be blamed for this economic crisis.